Bill aims to reverse governor's decision to keep refugees

Posted at 3:58 PM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 23:17:34-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A West Tennessee lawmaker has introduced a bill that would reverse Governor Bill Lee's decision to continue to allow refugees to resettle in Tennessee.

Representative Ron Gant R-Rossville filed the bill which would keep the governor from making any decision in regards to resettlement of refugees unless authorized by a joint resolution by the general assembly.

The governor would then not be able to make that kind of decision for more than a year. The resolution would also act retroactively to actions taken by the governor prior to the resolution.

Gant gave NewsChannel 5 a statement reading: “House Bill 1929 is designed to encourage a dialogue between our members and Governor Lee so we can work together to better determine costs and potential safety issues associated with the refugee resettlement program. Our state has always been welcoming to the countless generations of citizens who have used the legal process to relocate here. At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect our current and future generations by ensuring that bad actors do not take advantage of a well-intentioned program, like we have seen in other countries. We look forward to working with the Governor on this important issue, and we appreciate his willingness to review and consider this legislation as it works its way through our General Assembly.”

Governor Lee took the executive action in December, saying he considered his own experience helping Kurdish refugees and weighed it against the will of fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

Read More: Gov. Bill Lee says state will keep resettling refugees

On Wednesday, Lee said he stands by his decision.

"I feel the same way about the importance of allowing a limited number of highly vetted refugees into this state," Lee told reporters. "It's something I continue to have conviction on and feel strongly about."

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) said the bill was disrespectful and that Gov. Lee made the right decision.

“It is the definition of disrespect for the leaders of his own party to thumb their noses at the Governor’s decision. There are some decisions that are better left up to the executive branch and this is definitely one of those. The Governor has made the absolute right moral decision; one that is completely his to make based on information that he has at his disposal and without legislative second-guessing.”

Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition leaders agree with Stewart and Lee, and worry political back-and-forth could overshadow the issue at hand.

"At its core, this program is about saving the lives of people," Judith Clerjeune said. "It's about people who are literally forced to leave their homes and being able to provide a place of refuge. This is what this program is about."